DENIAL is a river in Egypt, so the old joke goes. Just recently, there has been a renewed hope amongst Brexiteers and right-of-centre pundits that the reappointment of Suella Braverman as Home Secretary by Rishi Sunak would somehow lead us to escape the clutches of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
Hope springs eternal, I suppose, but to suggest this rather fanciful notion shows total misunderstanding of the nature of Toryism, why the Tory Party disappoints conservatives at every turn, and what Rishi Sunak’s elevation to party leader and Prime Minister really means in that context.
At heart the Tory Party, or at least the Parliamentary expression of it rather than its abused, long-suffering membership, is not and never has been a political party in the normal sense of those words. It exists as merely a vehicle for the social aspirations of its MPs. Some of them feel themselves to be outsiders who wish to join the upper echelon of the establishment (for example John Major and Theresa May), others that they were born with a certain social entitlement that they wish to maintain (David Cameron and Boris Johnson). However, both those sets share a deep aversion to being cast into the outer darkness, a waking terror of being blackballed: a pariah, persona non grata, outside the club. Together they vastly outnumber the small number of radicals and conviction politicians in the party who went into politics to do something rather than to be something.
This explains the Tories’ total failure to deliver Brexit correctly or for that matter anything else over the past sorry 12 years in office. David Cameron must have known when he came back empty-handed from negotiation with the EU on tempering freedom of movement that he was playing with fire, but nonetheless couldn’t take the logical step that Britain must therefore leave it: he gave a promise of a referendum on EU membership only when forced to do so by UKIP. Likewise, post referendum Theresa May, despite her protestation that ‘Brexit meant Brexit’, cleaved to the EU as a supplicant during negotiations. Her abominable deal was subsequently supported by the majority of Tory MPs, who defenestrated her only when obliteration at the polls at the hands of the Brexit Party loomed. True, Boris Johnson got us a Brexit of sorts, but only as a vehicle for his own personal ambition, and he quickly tried to rebuild bridges with the establishment afterwards. Post Boris the socially awkward and unclubbable Liz Truss was rapidly dispensed with.
This instinctive terror of being cast adrift from polite opinion explains why Rishi Sunak was the preferred candidate of Tory MPs, and why truly conservative candidates such as Braverman and Kemi Badenoch were not. For all the chattering blather about diversity that followed his elevation and coronation, what is most striking is how utterly conventional Sunak is from a Tory culture point of view: head boy at Winchester, PPE at Oxford, Goldman Sachs, someone who could be guaranteed to stay well on the inside track. Since then, Sunak’s performance has proved dismally but entirely predictably conventional, most notably backtracking on attending COP27. When it comes to the illegal migrant crisis, I strongly suspect that Braverman will very soon find herself in exactly the same position as her predecessor Priti Patel – hung out to dry by a weak, posh-boy leader who will never risk the opprobrium of polite society, still less the international community. Meanwhile things will stumble on much as before, with endless initiatives and deals that achieve nothing but the illusion of meaningful activity.
Hindsight is wonderful thing, of course, but in retrospect the Tory Party was never going to make a success of Brexit, or for that matter of doing anything even vaguely conservative: for a truly conservative party, the rejection of the globalist liberal establishment would have been a once-in-a-century opportunity to set the country on a new, exciting course. For the Tories, it was merely a regrettable necessity for re-election, never to be followed through to its logical conclusion.